Please leave old baggage well alone!

When the bags have been put down, there is little point in tampering with them

I have for the past few weeks been seeing a therapist, which is exactly what prompted this post. The reason that I decided to push my pride aside and let my extensive psychological knowledge (yes, I am boasting!) go, was because I knew I needed help. The reason that I needed it, was because I am suffering from ongoing health problems which significantly afflict a large portion of my life (sob). With no quick and clear end of these health problems subsiding any time soon, I decided that I wanted help with reducing the psychological stress that arose from them. Thus I opted to see a therapist…

Now baggage can come in many different shapes and sizes; formed for, and as a result of, different factors and exerts its influence in a whole range of different ways. Many of us, I believe are born with a certain amount of ready packed baggage in the form of personality traits which aren’t always helpful. Then of course there is the amount of baggage that is accrued as we travel through life. I have always been very much aware that I have been prone to the acquisition of such baggage due to a lifetime of difficult events and situations. From early childhood I have very much struggled to overcome challenges, which I believed made me  resilient to a lot of other situations that I had to face through the years.

It is maybe due to this awareness that I have always been keen to tackle these problems head on. Maybe it was ever since I learnt about Freud’s concept of repression and how damaging it could be, that I have been determined to lay my issues to bed in the best ways possible. I think this is why I find it very hard to be dishonest now, even in situations whereby lying would be the kindest thing to do: “No you don’t look fat”, “yes, of course I think you can do it”, “no, I don’t mind”. It is almost like an allergy to dishonesty. Personally I like to be told things straight, so that any problems can be addressed and misunderstandings can be avoided. This naturally applies when I am dealing with myself. I don’t like to pretend I’m happy when I’m not. I want to examine what it is that I find difficult or what causes unsavoury emotions because otherwise how will these things be rectified?

There are a lot of issues from my childhood and teenage years that I found although I could address them, I couldn’t lay them to rest. There was a part of the healing process that was out of my hands. These came in the form of acknowledgement from my parents of certain difficult times, when perhaps they conducted themselves in a way that made things particularly hard for me at the time and therefore rendered a lot of unresolved emotion. I am lucky in the respect that I later became able to have candid conversations with my parents whereby I received apologies, reassurance and explanations. I genuinely believed that this enabled me to let the past hurt and destruction go.

This may be true, at least on a cognitive level and I really do not feel that I harbour resentment for anything that I was put through as a result of my parents failings. I know it wasn’t easy for either of them and both of them had to battle to find their own happiness, which meant that they couldn’t always put me first. I don’t blame them. They are only human and they possess amazing qualities that not only do I admire them for, but I have them to thank for some of these qualities being instilled in me.

My problem with baggage seemed to be a fairly recent one. It is a problem that unnerves me a fair bit, having always endeavoured to let the past go and look ahead. My problem comes when the baggage resurfaces in the worst and most powerful form possible. It is a sweep of such drowning and sorrowful emotion that I never feel that my tears are enough to relieve it. This is a very strange experience to me, as I cannot recall a period where I have felt so knocked, vulnerable and helpless. Explanation of such phenomena would benefit from a partial explanation of some themes in my life.

Betrayal: My mum left my dad when I was about 5 years old. I remember that there was an element of betrayal in how I felt about it. Maybe because I was a daddy’s girl, maybe because my dad felt betrayed and this transferred down to me, maybe because she quickly moved in with her friend who then became an unconventional step-father figure.

When I was 14, my mum then left me for a quiet life with a fat stupid man, instead of helping me through some of the most difficult years of my life so far. Not long after that, my dad seemed to transfer all of his love and attention to his gold digging girlfriend and her “IVF” kid.

I suppose this is sufficient to set the basis for a sensitivity towards betrayal, which I also suppose runs hand in hand with the other predominant theme of baggage in my life: Abandonment.  It is the two of these themes that sets perfect conditions for feelings of isolation which have been primed further by the fact that I am an only child, I don’t have a close family, I have tended to live geographically apart from where my friends and school have been and, I suppose, I err on the side of being alone because it beats the hell out of being left alone.

As you may be able to tell, I am frightfully aware of all these “psychological frailties” and so it truly does unnerve me when I feel emotions that I have not felt for years now enveloping me. Or do I? Actually I think not. As previous blog posts (and the lack of over the past month) have shown, my health has been pretty Goddamn awful. It is this, in actual fact that makes me feel so bereft, as I am sure it would to anyone who had a limited social circle/family nearby, a demanding job, a limited bank account and a preference to jolly well be healthy again!

I did in fact, warn the therapist straight away that I am an individual that has always psychoanalyzed myself, which at times may not be very productive but on the most part has fared me well. So I thought that I would bear with him when he wanted to discuss my past;  I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he wanted to explore my past and had little to say when I was not forthcoming in such a subject and wanted to discuss my present problems. But there is only so much patience and bullshit that I am prepared to take. Let me please illustrate for you a little how one of my lasts sessions went:

Me: I get really upset and feel really lonely because of this illness… it stops me from being able to do things and I feel isolated because I feel I can’t join in with everyday life. I’m just constantly stressed out and worried by this.

Him: lonely? What makes you feel lonely?

Me: The fact that I have to keep going through this illness and no one can really give a quick solution or make it better and nobody really understands how it feels to have this day in day out. (I kindly embellish to give him an opportunity to say something sensible) I get frustrated because I communicate clearly to others what the problem is and how it makes me feel and they seem to understand, but then at some point – be it a couple of hours, days, weeks- they will do or say something, that makes it seem like they don’t understand at all. (I give him an example of my mum listening to me tell her what the health problem diagnosis was and then suggest advice from a woman who had something vastly different)

Him: So you don’t feel understood?

Me: No I feel understood but I feel like people forget.

Him: You feel forgotten? You must have felt forgotten when your mum kicked you out, or your dad bla bla bla.

__________________________________________________________________

Yes quite. I am all for therapy but I am not for amateur therapy, especially not when it entails dragging up emotion from the past unnecessarily. The next time I got upset about the stress of my health condition, I was actually convinced that all of this awful unresolved emotional trauma was still weighing down heavily on me. I believe I sobbed to my boyfriend that this was so. Sorry boyfriend, I was misled. I know that I have resolved my issues a long time ago, and I know that sometimes naturally there may be some residue of left-over emotion at poignant points in life. This is not reason enough to indulge in past grievances that have well and truly been laid to rest. In fact I am aggrieved that a “therapist” would prey on someone emotionally vulnerable for quite different reasons and seek to dig up past woes, when in actual fact all the person wants is some better coping mechanisms for stress arising from a physical ailment.

I am all for exploring the past and I do think that this can be a terribly helpful process for those who’ve never endeavoured to before, in some cases. I have though, and to rehash old news is frankly a waste of my time. I look to better the present. So dear Mr Therapist, I will reiterate: please leave old baggage well alone!

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Taking the piss; Mind over Matter

When will it all end

When will it all end?

I have never been one to throw in the towel, despair and just want to give up. I pride myself on my resilience and capacity to cope with most things that life throws at me. Unfortunately we all have our limits. I feel that I reached mine. I understand the importance of seeing a bigger picture and embracing the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence and this is what I tend to do when I find myself slipping down a chasm of desolation

It all started around 9 months ago when I suffered from unrelenting cystitis. Now most females are bound to know better than males just how excruciating this can be. No major problem: just take the sachets available from most supermarkets and it’ll be calmed and gone within a few hours – days at most. It becomes a bit more bothersome when that just doesn’t do it; chronic urges to urinate along with painful stomach cramps, just can’t be ignored. Not too worrying, though – just go to the doctor and get some antibiotics. Gone!

Blissful: the feeling of having a regular urination cycle! But not for long. It recurred so many times that I was left sick of the sight of doctors scratching their heads, taking urine samples, consulting their “General Practitioner-ing Guide for Dummies”, bemused by the fact that there seemed to be no infection at all. At length they would say “We’ll try another antibiotic”.

As suspected, the antibiotics didn’t work and by now I was worrying even more after having looked up my symptoms on the internet and scouring forums which all pointed to dreadful diseases and incurable ailments.  The last straw came at the fifth hundredth doctor, who this time after some bewildered “umming and ahhhing” offered the following: “maybe you’re constipated- it can sometimes put pressure on your bladder”.

Having described my symptoms at length, now well-practiced like the words of a play, I was appalled at this whimsical diagnosis. My discomfort was quite clearly a localised problem having nothing to do with my bowel movements, which were in fact regular. I must admit that I had an intense urge to punch her in the face, whilst shouting “If you want to make random guesses, fuck off to Deal or No Deal!”

I had decided enough was enough and as is so often the case when things are free, the NHS healthcare was useless. I sought the advice of a private gynaecologist who gave me a quick and accurate diagnosis: Urethritis. The medication helped and I was cured.

I’m sure that you can imagine my horror when, quite unpronounced, whilst still taking the long-term prescribed medicines, the symptoms all returned. I went back to my local doctors, dejected and requesting a consultation with someone other than the constipated moron. Fortunately this doctor had a clue and on my second visit to her (which must be making my total number of doctor appointments circa 2281) I was given an alternative medication after being informed that I was unlikely to have an infection any more. This medication was instead aimed at dulling the nerve signals from the urethra to the brain, which now had been eternally “switched on” due to the returning infections.

Although this tactic worked for a while, like everything else so far, its efficiency diminished and I was left in chronic discomfort and a state of despair. Aside from the physical hindrance, the mental impact was the worst. What was once joyful in life was now drained by the anxiety that I was filled with as I evaluated: Can I do that or will I be too uncomfortable? No gym, to relieve you of those inevitable fat days which are becoming much more frequent now; no going out drinking with friends as it makes you feel worse when you drink and boring when you don’t! ; no sex, so you feel prematurely “passed – it” and unsexy as you flinch every time your boyfriend’s hand near touches your thigh.

All of this contributes to the worst part of the sorry situation: The sensation that you are losing yourself. Once positive and light-hearted, resilient to most things if not all, you feel as though you want to curl into a little ball and hide from the world that now must surely see you as a weak crumbling mess.

The last consultation confirmed what I feared. In the absence of an infection it was likely to be psychological/neurological/same-thing. My central nervous system had gotten into a pattern of firing that now would be hard to counteract. Having been intensely interested in health psychology, I was horrified when the urologist likened the condition with “phantom limb syndrome” which I have learnt is often intractable and chronic.  The most effective methods of relief are – to my knowledge – often complex neuropsychological techniques.

The worst part of the unidentified condition was the impairment on my psychosocial well-being and general distress levels. I suppose as a psychology graduate I should have welcomed the opportunity of putting faith in the power of the mind-over-body stance, which I had always advocated. I can’t quite explain why, but the prospect filled me with fear, quite possibly because I felt that I had little energy left to invest in mindful practice to relieve my discomfort. I wanted “a normal” problem – one that could be fixed with antibiotics or strong pain killers.

Although I have always embraced the fact that I am not “normal”, embracing my as-of-yet undiagnosed condition in the same way was rather hard. Getting the feelings of anxiety and worry to subside, is no easy feat. Having said that I suppose it is time to put my money (or mental health) where my mouth is and practice what I preach. During my studies I was put in awe of the brain’s plasticity and capacity to respond physiologically to different patterns of thinking.

In a study this year “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter densityit was demonstrated how just 8 weeks of mindfulness training could reduce grey matter density in the amygdala (the brain region principally responsible for emotions such as anxiety and stress) which was consequently reflected in the participants’ own subjective feelings.

Perhaps it is the untamed neurosis within me that makes it difficult to suppress feelings of helplessness that only ever really arise when my health is involved. This in itself presents an opportune subject for examination which may help in my attempt to assert mind over matter.

I suppose that all is not lost while you still have your mind. Referring back to the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence; nothing remains the same. What cripples me now is likely to be nothing but a distant memory in time to come.  I must remember that I am what I think  and have faith that my mind will surely overcome matter.

The Buddha

Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much
as your own unguarded thoughts.